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The Consequences of Budget Deficits For International Trade

In all the economic mayhem ahead, no one is yet thinking of the consequences for trade imbalances. The twin deficit hypothesis informs us that skyrocketing US budget deficits will lead to increasing trade deficits, a situation with serious political consequences. Furthermore, with foreign interests already saturated with dollars and financial assets denominated in them, far from investing their growing surpluses in yet more dollars and dollar-denominated investments, they will become increasingly aggressive sellers.

This article walks the reader through the main issues of international trade in a developing slump and finds worrying parallels with the Wall Street crash and subsequent events. While the parallels are worrying, the major differences between then and now suggest that this time outcomes could be even more economically challenging.

Introduction

Following the presidential election this week, the new President of the United States will face an economic slump. Long before the covid-19 lockdowns, economic and financial developments threatened to undermine both the US economy and the dollar.

The similarities between the situation today and the end of the roaring twenties, and the depression that followed, are enormously concerning. Both periods have seen a stock market bubble, fuelled by bank credit and an artificial monetary stimulus by the Fed. Both periods have experienced an increase in trade protectionism:  In October 1929, the month of the crash, after debating it for months Congress finally passed the Smoot Hawley Tariff Act, raising tariffs on all imported goods by an average of about 20%. In 2019, US trade protectionism against China put a stop to the expansion of international trade. These facts, which should continue to concern us, have been buried by the immediacy of the coronavirus crisis, which is an additional burden for the global economy today compared with the situation ninety years ago.

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